Women With Disabilities Special Needs  
 

Gender plays a major role in the lives of people with hearing impairment as women face more harassment than their male counterparts. Women with disabilities have been largely ignored by social movements. Social restrictions generated by negative attitudes have aggravated the oppression they face by virtue of both sexism and 'disablism'.

It is well known that both disabled people and women constitute the weaker and vulnerable section of most societies and that gender plays a significant role in determining a person's social status. Hence, a woman with disabilities is multiply disadvantaged both in terms of her physical or mental disabilities as well as gender. It can be safely assumed she is in a worse condition than those who are disadvantaged by only one of these factors.
 
 
Defining oppression
 
 
Oppression is a common denominator is the case of disabled women. It is directly proportional to ones' affiliation or membership to an oppressed group in the society; be it disability, race or gender. According to the Focus International Report, in most societies across the world, women stand lesser chances in terms of access to education, health services, employment opportunities and other amenities of life than their male counterparts. The situation worsens when the same women have a disadvantage added to their identity such as disability, race or sexual preference.
 
Disabled women's life experiences are often described as 'double disadvantaged' or 'triple jeopardized'. (Begum 1994) However, such terms fail to capture the different levels of oppression which women who are disabled by physical impairments, sexual preferences, racial affiliations as well as their gender identity have to face.
 
 
The experience of disabled women cannot be analysed by simply constructing parallels. Such an approach makes the position and experience of disabled women invisible. Moreover, as disabled women are vulnerable to a number of oppressive encounters simultaneously, it would be inappropriate to try and interpret their experience by developing a framework that attempts to draw parallels between divisions
 
 
Drawing on the same analogy, it can be said that terms like disablism, sexism and racism denote a common experience of oppression, but not everyone is equally oppressed. People who experience simultaneous oppression need to define the same terms but fundamentally change them in order to account for the individual starting points. The impact of oppression can be diluted by the ability of the person to identify with a more powerful social group.
 
  Education  
 
Before discussing employment and disabled women, it is essential to look at their educational status as the general assumption holds that higher education leads to better employment. To understand gender discrimination better, it is interesting to note their educational status in comparison with disabled men and non-disabled women in terms of statistical figures.
 
 
The same situation can be seen in the India 2001 Census. For example, in West Bengal (WB), the general literacy rate is 68.64 percent, with men and women at 77.02 percent and 56.61 percent respectively. Among the disabled, where the total disabled population is 58.07 percent, the literacy rate among the disabled men and women is 66.47 percent and 47.61 percent respectively. (Census, 2001 WB). The figures are self explanatory.
 
  Employment  
 
Drawing from the above mentioned figures, disabled women are less likely to find employment and also have less income compared to disabled men and non-disabled women. Quoting Schur (2004) again, it can be seen that the number of disabled women employed is 44.2 percent compared to that of 49.5 percent and 75.5 percent for disabled men and non-disabled women respectively. There is also a significant difference in the personal mean incomes of disabled women. The mean personal incomes of disabled women is $13, 010 as compared to the mean earning of disabled men ($21,971) and non-disabled women ($20,302). A similar trend is echoed in the Report by the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific (ESCAP):
 
 
From the Census of 2001 it can be seen that the total employed disabled persons in India are 34.49 percent. In Bengal we find that the general percentage of the total employed persons is 36.77 percent in comparison to the total number of disabled employees which is only 33.26 percent, where 46.74 percent disabled men are employed in comparison to only 15.15 percent in case of disabled women.
 
 
The above discussion indicates that disabled women are discriminated in education, higher education in particular. Education is the key to their advancement as it provides access to information, enables them to communicate with others, and enables them to assert their rights. However, the prejudice surrounding their ability continues to perpetuate the view that educating them is futile. This discrimination reflects on their opportunity to find employment and also castes a shadow on their personal income and consequently inferior quality of life.
 
  Exclusion movements  
 
Although women with disabilities have been an integral part of the history of disability rights and women's rights movements in India, their concerns have largely been ignored and their accomplishments minimised. Consequently the issues of disabled women do not feature in the policies and legislation concerning women in general.
 
 
The above discussion indicates that disabled women are discriminated in education, higher education in particular. Education is the key to their advancement as it provides access to information, enables them to communicate with others, and enables them to assert their rights
 
  Exclusion from legislation  
 
Whatever the issues that relegates disabled women from the feminist agenda, in turn, excludes their particular concerns to be represented in the legislations that safeguards the interests of women in general.
 
 
In her essay "Regulations on disabled women's sexuality", Nisha says that this law is used mostly against the interests of women. Many Indian states allow the spouse to remarry without a divorce if a partner becomes disabled after marriage. In majority of the situations, it has been seen that women are more likely to be victims of false allegations than men. Some states also forbid persons having histories of cogitative impairments, epilepsy and mental health problems from marrying. In some situations children are taken away from disabled women as they are not deemed responsible enough to be mothers. Disabled women also face discrimination in the adoption process, in the provision of foster care and getting custody of children after divorce.
 
 
Hence, it can be said that even among the mainstream laws where legislation attempts to provide justice to both men and women, laws in most cases are used to the disadvantage of the disabled women.
 
  Section 13 of the Hindu Marriage Act lays down the criteria for divorce as the following in the context of impairment of either of the spouse:  
 
Any marriage solemnized, whether before or after the commencement of this Act, may, on a petition presented by either the husband or the wife, be dissolved by a decree of divorce on the ground that the other party-
 
 
a) has been incurably of unsound mind for a continuous period of not less than three years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition.
 
 
b) has, for a period of not less than three years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition, been suffering from a virulent and incurable form of leprosy
 
 
c) has, for a period of not less than three years immediately preceding the presentation of the petition, been suffering from venereal disease in a communicable form
 
 
The Hindu Marriage Act of 1955
 
  Recommendations  
 
Disabled women are marginalised and discriminated in major areas of life. The need of the hour is to challenge the discriminatory approach of social institutions and strive towards bringing about a more equalitarian situation for disabled women.
 
  This is possible by:  
 
  • Involving them in all policies and decision making processes and at every level of the projects: as staff, as volunteers, as participants and evaluators.

  • Including them in education, vocational training and rehabilitation programs and gearing towards preparing disabled girls and women for careers and gainful employment.

  • Setting up entrepreneurship development cum vocational training cum placement multipurpose centers to promote self and group employment for disabled women along with hostel facilities.

  • Asking the Government to

    - organise placement in open employment/self or group employment. The training centers need to have hostel facilities,

    - support the construction of accessible houses for independent scheme for employed disabled women, and

    - provide loans for purchasing suitable transport for commuting to the workplace

  • Disabled women must play a more proactive role in the social movements both in the context of the feminist and disabled rights movements. They need to be more forceful and authoritative to ensure that their issues get included in the agenda and recommendations.

 
 
Disabled women must play a more proactive role in the social movements both in the context of the feminist and disabled rights movements. They need to be more forceful and authoritative to ensure that their issues get included in the agenda
 
 
There is much talk of the death of feminism - that the war has been won and that there are few, if any, battles left to fight. Yet gender discrimination continues even within the feminist and disabled rights movements. Although women with disabilities have been an integral part of the history of movements for feminist and disability rights, yet their concerns have largely been ignored and their accomplishments minimized. Without immediate and effective remedial action, the consequences of disability will add to the obstacles to the development of women with disabilities.
 
     
 
 
  Copyright@ 2009 India Women Welfare Foundation